The last year has been one of monumental change for business leaders across the world. Defined by a global pandemic, economic concerns, political strife and social unrest, it has presented unique challenges and stretched individual and collective leadership capabilities. It has added energy to discussions about the purpose of business and its responsibility not just to shareholders but to all stakeholders, especially employees. And for almost all organizations, it has accelerated shifts in business models and ways of working.
It is against this backdrop that we launched our 2021 Global Leadership Monitor, designed to identify top business issues and measure how well prepared leaders are to face them. We received responses from more than 1,300 CEOs, C-suite executives, board directors, and next-generation leaders (those one or two levels below the C-suite). Collectively these leaders represent 53 countries, a range of industries, and both public and private companies.
Amid the many challenges ahead—uncertain economic growth, health threats, changes in consumer behavior and technological disruption—a prominent theme that emerged from the responses of these top leaders was the importance of leadership capability and culture.
Leaders are concerned about talent and skill availability impacting organizational health, and many feel their leadership team is underprepared to face up to that threat. We know that younger generations in the workforce are more vocal about being purpose-oriented in what they want from their careers, yet our data shows that many executives lack confidence in how effectively their organization’s leadership team (which includes themselves) is embracing social and environmental sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Moreover, next-generation leadership talent – who potentially hold the key for many organizations to truly embed purpose into strategy and culture – may be a growing retention risk for organizations. Our data shows they are both open to new opportunities elsewhere and have lower confidence in the robustness of C-suite succession strategies at their organizations.
To succeed in the years ahead, our research suggests leaders would benefit from recalibrating their understanding of what good leadership is, and they must take steps to evolve leadership capability and culture.